Four days into the new year, Memphis police arrested one of their own, an off-duty officer accused of grabbing his girlfriend by the throat and slamming her to the ground.
For the officer involved, the stakes are high. The victims of officer-involved domestic violence face daunting obstacles. And when a police officer is found to have committed domestic violence, the public should care, said a former police chief of Portland, Ore., the first female chief in a major city.
"You should be concerned and you should not want that person coming to your home," said Penny Harrington, Portland's police chief from 1985-86 and who later helped found the National Center for Women and Policing.
"That's a person who can't control temper, who has inappropriate responses to being confronted. That person shouldn't be on your police department," said Harrington, now a retiree living in California.
The Memphis Police Department issued a media release about the Jan. 4 arrest of off-duty officer Samuel Hearn, 27, who joined the force in April 2010. He is charged with domestic assault in the incident involving his 23-year-old girlfriend.
Within the Memphis Police Department, violating domestic violence policy carries a minimum 15-day suspension without pay and a requirement to attend a domestic violence and anger management treatment program. He would be fired for a second confirmed violation.
The top-level misdemeanor that Hearn faces in General Sessions Criminal Court could potentially cost him his $43,000-a-year job through a short chain of events.
Federal law prohibits police officers convicted of certain misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms. A final order of protection or restraining order involving domestic violence against an officer also prohibits possessing a gun. In both cases, the Tennessee's Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission would decertify the officer. Termination from the force would follow.
Nationally, researchers' surveys of police officers about two decades ago found that incidences of domestic violence among police families is two to four times higher than the rest of the population.
Victims of officer-involved domestic violence also face obstacles imposed by the job.
"Most of the victims who are victims of police domestic violence are terrified to come forward," Harrington said. "Their husbands have guns, they know how to work the system, they know how to testify in court, they know all the district attorneys, they know all the shelters. And so the woman feels trapped and her husband tells her, 'If you make a complaint about this, I'll lose my job, and what are you going to do then?'"
Still, Harrington said progress has been made over the decades in combating officer-involved domestic violence, with visibility for the issue and laws targeting it. Police departments, including Memphis, also have beefed up counseling and other services.
"It definitely has gotten better," she said. "Is it where it needs to be? No, there is still way too much of it."
Copyright 2013 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.